A meetup with ClubInternet

Club Internet

Team Blogogist had the privilege of meeting the founders of ClubInternet earlier this week, Sophiya Pervez and Hassan Baig. Their app #moovy has been the center of attention for quite some time now and now housed at Arfa Karim Technology Park for incubation, there seems no stopping these guys( and gals!) as they have achieve milestones here and there.

Clubinternet

Here’s what these guys have to say. First up ,architect behind the scene, Hassan Baig!

Hassan Baig, Co-founder.
Hassan Baig, Co-founder.

Hassan:

I did my bachelors from Duke University in North Carolina, US after which I started working with KPMG in London. In 2009, I came back to Pakistan and launched my first startup; Pakistan’s first social gaming studio making social games for Facebook. We scaled to over 3M users and trended several times as the fastest growing social gaming network on Facebook.
Then in 2013 we founded ClubInternet and this is my second startup. To add to what Sophia said, our main goal is to start off by teaching people basic internet services such as messaging, surfing, Wikipedia etc. If internet use can become ubiquitous in Pakistan, it could bring a mental renaissance, a revolution of the brain so to speak. Something we were discussing recently was that since smartphones are so easily available now, they’re the first computing device for most people in the 3rd world. So these are exciting times and we’re very excited to be working in this domain.

To mention our other co-founders: we have Shahbaz Ali Khan, a Manchester University grad as our Chief Operations Officer, and then we have Fahad Rao, who recently worked with Convo (Pakistani startup now based in the US, raised 5 million dollars), and is now our Chief Product Officer.

Next up , the ‘sales gal’ as their site puts it, Sophiya Pervez !
Quite the profile your team has, what would you like to tell about yourself ?

Sophia-Pervez
Sophia-Pervez


Sophiya:

I did my bachelors in telecommunication engineering and have been working with IBM for over 3 years now. We founded our company, ClubInternet, in late 2013. The idea for CI came about seeing the huge boom in the availability of low-end smartphones; i.e. now you see everyone own at least an entry level smartphone or internet capable feature phone.
However not too many people know how to use it. Even though they have access to the internet right there in the palm of their hands, they lack the ‘mental model’ of know how to use it. We consider internet to be the ultimate enabler and we believe that just with access to the right information/tools people can improve their lives drastically. So we came up with this platform, a.k.a ClubInternet, which teaches people ‘how’ and ‘why’ to use the internet. Consider it the Khan Academy for digital literacy.

How did you come up with the idea?

Hassan:

There were a series a events that led us up to founding this company. Like for example, my hired help (driver) came up to me and asked me to create his account on Facebook for him. Likewise, my mom got an iPad as a gift and wanted to Skype with our family outside of Pakistan, but every single time she’d ask me to set it up for her. People in my village have these brand new, low-end internet capable phones, which they’re only be using to make calls and SMS.
Also, we found that no one is really interested to learn how to use the internet unless they realize what benefits the internet actually brings to their lives. Then there was also the fact that we had to start off with things which are ‘sticky’ – for example when I was young, I got hooked onto the internet because of chatrooms. I don’t know if you remember, but mIRC, MSN messenger etc were quite an epidemic back then, and they made me spend a lot of time online.
But this wasn’t a waste. You see it all eventually lead me to scope out top universities on usnews.com, and then I actually ended up going to my dream school in the US! The dots totally connected for me.
So getting people engaged to the internet would eventually open up a world of information for them. It was findings such as these, a whole lot of research, usability testing and iterations that helped us do what we do.

Does ClubInternet’s objective align with Google and Facebook’s initiative to provide internet to people who can not avail this facility?
Sophie:

Yes, Google’s Project Loon and Facebook’s internet.org are working to expand the internet infrastructure and improve its affordability. So to speak, they are working on the ‘supply side’ of the equation. We at ClubInternet are working at the ‘demand’ side on the other hand.

People don’t know ‘why’ or ‘how’ to use the internet even when it is available to them. If I were to hand someone from my village a smartphone with the Google homepage open on it, he wouldn’t know what to do with it (we actually have that on tape in one of our usability tests). But if you teach him that type in such and such text box, and click that button: suddenly he is set to search on whichever subject he needs to! So yeah, our goal is exactly the same as Google’s and Facebook’s initiative, however they are tackling more the ‘supply’ of the internet, whereas we’re addressing the ‘demand’ of it.

How has your product worked so far, do you have any stats to show for it?
Hassan:

Yes we’re live with one of the major telecom operators in the country, our content gets around 10,000 hits per weeks. What’s very heartening is that this content is not even heavily advertised; it’s self-discovered by users and is viral to an extent. All this shows us that the demographic we’re trying to target is responding well to the content.
We see partnerships with more telecom operators and pushing this thing at a national level as the next steps for us. Our goals and their goals align pretty well, since their data usage would also increase as more people onboard onto the internet.
Also further along the pipeline we see CI working with organizations which work to tackle issues such as illiteracy, healthcare, Ebola or Polio, agricultural education etc. since our platform is fundamentally an information dissemination tool.

A snapshot of #moovy , flagship product of ClubInternet

Your company has many badges to mention, you recently won Plan9 Acumen Launchpad, how was that experience?
Sophia:

Yeah, that was a great experience! It felt like the “American Idol’ of the startup world. We competed against some great startups, in front of a huge audience. I have to say the response we received was amazing.
Now working within Plan9 is such a nice experience. Also we recently got shortlisted for Startup Istanbul, attending which got us some meaningful exposure at the international forum. Oh and one more thing. I have been selected for the Google’s Women Entrepreneurship Mentorship program (GBG) out of Pakistan. So those are a few mentionable badges we have.

You mentioned on your website about tackling polio refusals, helping in teacher and community midvwives training, so how does that fit in with your product?
Hassan:

So essentially we are developing a training platform for your phone/smartphone/website to help spread digital literacy. So its basically a training technology – why stop at just digital literacy?
Our platform can be used to help people working in the development sector as well, for information dissemination for their projects in healthcare, agriculture, education, micro finance and various other areas. There are so many issues which ail the 3rd world just because of lack of information; polio refusals is a glaring example of that. Television or print media can only go so far when it comes to spreading awareness in this regard. But with a mobile phone in almost every pocket, our platform can have a deeper impact.
In fact, we did a trial run of this with 2 prominent American organizations working in the development sector of Pakistan, to educate community midwives about mother child mortality. These organizations had deployed a m-health app to help community midwives, but the CMWs had thing know-how of what an app is, let alone how to use it.
We made training tech on how to use this app, and also added a component on healthcare knowledge. The CMWs responded very well, showing us how we can potentially expand in the development sector as well.

 

Okay and what about the teacher training part, how is that different from those already in the market?

Sophiya:

So the common practice used majorly for teacher training are work shops, and some work shops follow that up with written manuals. But the thing about workshops is, you forget more than 90% of the material within the next 4 days (statistical fact). Written manuals are descriptive, and require long reading hours. What if there were summarized short videos on your smartphone for you to access whenever and wherever needed? The information retention would be enhanced, increasing the effectiveness majorly.

What do you have planned 5 years down the line?

Sophiya:

Ideally, forming partnerships with major telecoms within the country at first to reach the broadest range of users, refining our content and covering more internet services along the way.
As we got a feeler of the international market especially at Startup Istanbul, we see a huge potential for expanding the product to cover other countries. India, Middle East are places we’re interest in. Also, internet giants like Facebook, Google are reaching user saturation, they too need new and fresh eyeballs. Telecoms themselves need to enhance data usage, and countries caught up in digital illiteracy too need to at least be on the internet, to have any chance of a brighter future. At the end of the day, we just want to equip as many people as we can to become a part of this revolution.

What is your advice to anyone whose just starting off with their start up? What would you do if you were to do it all over again?

Hassan:

Well to start of, entrepreneurship is not easy, don’t just give up on the first sign of trouble. Its not a snapshot in time that hey, I tried it out, it didn’t work, lets go back to my 9-5 job. Consider it a pilgrimage.

Secondly, do something you like yourself, or work on a problem you’ve faced yourself, making a product you’d love to use yourself. Supplement this with market research, usability tests, and the lean/MVP approach. Ultimately, if there’s a good product-market fit, you’re set. Remember: it has to be a handshake between your passion and the market. Do in-depth market research, get to know your would be users really really well. Good luck!

Sophiya:

Also I want to add something specifically for the women out there. I really feel we need more female entrepreneurs, but I know there are a lot of reasons which hold them back. I just want to tell them that true, entrepreneurship is hard, even more so for women, but just take that first step. If you have a great idea, believe in yourself, never think of ‘what could go wrong’ or ‘what will people say’, put your whole passion into it and trust me good things will follow!

We enjoyed interviewing the team and they proved excellent insight as well. We wish ClubInternet and its team the best for all future endeavors !

Wanna see the #moovy in action?
Here’s the link :
http://www.clubinternet.co/

Eager to speak to the team ? They can be reached at :
info@clubinternet.co


This blog post was originally published here by yours truly when I worked at Blogogist.

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